Course Policies

For a downloadable version n f the course policies and schedule of readings, click here. Otherwise, here it is in plain text:

FYSE1496: Reason, Morality, and Cultural Difference

Middlebury College

Fall 2017

Twilight 204

MW, 2:50-4:05PM

Kareem Khalifa, PhD

Email: (far more reliable than telephone)

Course Website: http://

(all lecture notes are posted here)

Instructor Website:

Office Hours: Wednesdays, 4:30-5:30PM,

Thursdays, 2:00-4:00PM

and by appointment

Student Tutor: Nosagie Asaolu (

Librarian: Ryan Clement (


Course Description: Different cultures have different standards of what counts as true, rational, and moral. Are all of these standards equally good? Which considerations could possibly support this position? Furthermore, should we accept the consequences that follow from the claim that all of these standards are equally good—for example, that the structure of the universe changes in accordance with a culture’s commitments to modern science, or that it is morally acceptable for some cultures to engage in genocide? By reading, discussing, and writing about contemporary philosophical readings on these topics, we will address these questions.  CW PHL



We will meet our course objectives through written assignments, presentations, and active discussion of the materials we are reading. Here is the relative breakdown of their weights:

  1. In-Class Presentation and Supporting Materials:
    1. Presentation 20%
    2. Summary 10%
    3. On-Call Duties 5%
  2. Midterm Paper:
    1. Draft of Midterm Paper 5%
    2. Final Draft of Midterm Paper 15%
  • Final Paper and Supporting Materials:
    1. Final Paper Proposal 10%
    2. Draft of Final Paper 5%
    3. Evaluation of Peers’ Final Drafts 5%
    4. Final Paper 20%
  1. Participation 10%


Alphabetic final grades will then be assigned according to the following scale (%):

87.5-89.4: B+ 77.5-79.4: C+ 59.5-69.4: D+ 0-59.4: F
92.5-100.0: A 82.5-87.4: B 72.5-77.4: C
89.5-92.4: A- 79.5-82.4: B- 69.5-72.4: C-

There is no further rounding up or down of final grades.


  • In-Class Presentation and Supporting Materials

Active, student-led discussion is expected. I have found the following format works well for achieving this goal: Each student, hereon called a presenter, will be responsible for leading one class. There are 4 distinct stages:

Stage 1: Lunchtime meeting. Before you present, you and I will meet over lunch at a mutually convenient dining hall (Atwater tends to be best for me). You should have read the material on which you’ll be presenting before this meeting. The goal of this lunchtime meeting is to hammer out any vagaries you might have with the text, as well as just to catch up, take stock of the semester, etc. Meet with me for lunch no later than the Thursday before you present (I’m booked solid on Fridays.) It is your responsibility to schedule a time to meet with me, and this should be done at least three days in advance of our lunchtime. Failure to do so will be reflected in your Presentation grade.

Stage 2: Summary papers: Each presenter should write a 1000-1500 word paper. See below for details.

Stage 3: Pre-class questions for presenters: Approximately four students who are NOT PRESENTING will be “ON CALL.” Being on call means having to post a question on the course blog in response to the Summary Paper and readings. See details below.

Stage 4: Discussion: Each class will begin with the presenter providing a brief (5-minute) synopsis of the reading. (Everybody will have already read the primary material and the summary paper.) The presentation must conclude with a summary of the main questions that people asked (presenters should group questions according to similar concerns). Students who are neither presenters nor on-call are expected to be the first people to answer these questions. This way, everybody has an opportunity to be involved in each discussion in each class.

Presenters and on-call members who submit everything on time and exhibit an honest effort get at least a 92.5 on these assignments. Those who do exceptional work can earn up to 100. Those who fail to be timely or who fail to exhibit of an honest effort (as judged by me) will earn lower grades.

  • Summary Paper

As noted above (Stage 2), presenters must write a paper in which:

  • The presenter summarizes the texts to be discussed for the class.
  • The presenter critically engages the texts he/she summarizes so as to stimulate discussion by, e.g., raising potential objections, exploring potential answers to those objections, etc.

This paper should be posted to the blog no later than 11:59pm on two days BEFORE the presentations (i.e. either Saturday or Monday, depending on when you’re presenting). The blog address is:

Please enter this as a new post.


  • On-Call Responsibilities

For any given class, 4 students who are not presenting will be on-call. Being on call has three components:

  • Identifying a specific passage that raises a question for you:
    1. Passages (in either the text or the presenter’s paper) that were not clear to you. Cite page numbers and use direct quotations.
    2. Passages (in either the text or the presenter’s paper) that you strongly disagree with. Cite page numbers and use direct quotations.
    3. For those of you who post a bit later than your peers, you’re encouraged to use other on-call group members’ questions and ideas as the basis of your own question. If you do so, try to tie it back to the readings.
  • Reconstructing the argument in that passage, such that it is in standard form and is your best attempt to make it sound. For more on the mechanics of argument reconstruction, see here:
  • Asking a question based on this argument reconstruction. Possible questions include:
    1. Which statements in the argument do not appear to be true or have unclear terms?
    2. Although you have reconstructed the argument as best as you can, you may still not feel that the conclusion follows from the conclusion. Create counterexamples to your argument.

You should post these questions to our blog:

These should posted as replies to the summary paper. You should post these questions by 2pm on the day before the presentation (so either Sunday or Tuesday, depending on when you’re on call.) This blog is not publicly accessible (i.e. people can’t find it if they Google), so don’t be shy about asking a question that you think is “dumb.” (Chances are, it’s not.)

EVERY student has the following responsibilities for EVERY class:

  • To read EVERY question on the blog.
  • To think about potential responses to the questions, and be willing to share your ideas in class.

Remember, those who are neither presenting nor on-call are expected to be the first people to propose answers to these questions.

  • Discussion

On the day of the class in which you are scheduled to present, you will lead discussion. The major questions we will answer are those asked by the On-Call group. Wherever possible, students who are neither presenting nor on call should make the first attempt to answer these questions. (This way, everyone’s involved.) Having said this, it’s sometimes easier to start conversations by asking on-call members to motivate/clarify their questions. Presenters should keep the following in mind:

  1. All presenters must use PowerPoint, Beamer, or Keynote.
  2. Slideshows must be less than 10 slides long.
  3. The presenter should begin by situating the reading within the broader themes of the course, especially with respect to earlier readings.
  4. The chief criterion by which presenters will be assessed is how well they stimulate discussion. (This is not as easy as it looks!) Consider how different questions on the blog hang together; find interesting points of disagreement.

The slideshow should not be overflowing with information, yet must be sufficiently clear that other members of the class find the ideas easy to follow. Consequently, presenters must be especially reflective about how the accompanying commentary will supplement what the slides say. Early in the course, we will discuss how to use PowerPoint effectively in academic presentations. You are also encouraged to find other resources.


  • Midterm and Supporting Materials

Once we’ve made sufficient progress with the content of the course, I’ll assign a midterm paper.


  • “Initial” Draft of Midterm Paper

You will first give your best effort at satisfying the expectations of this paper assignment in an initial draft. Do not take this lightly—this counts for 5% of your final grade. I will provide extensive comments.


  • Final Draft of Midterm Paper

You will then revise your paper in light of my comments and any other reflections that strike you as improvements. Your grade on this paper will be a weighted average of:

  • The overall quality of your paper; and
  • The degree to which you incorporated my comments on your initial draft into your final draft.

I have not yet determined the weight, though (1) will count for more than (2).


  • Final Paper and Supporting Materials

In the last three weeks of class, we will be conducting a research workshop culminating in a 10-page paper of your own design that may be on any topic relating to the themes of the course.


  • Final Paper Proposal

With approximately a month remaining in the semester, you will have to propose your paper topic. For useful resources, go here:


  • Drafts of Final Paper

This paper will be due during finals week. We will split up into groups of four, with each group meeting twice. For this to work, some groups will have to meet outside of class.


Each week has three stages.


Stage 1: Pre-class drafts: For each workshop session, 2 students will email a rough draft of his/her paper to his/her group. Drafts should be 6-8 pages in length. As before, this should be your best effort, as it will count for part of your final grade. This must be done by midnight on the SATURDAY before class (regardless of when we’re discussing your paper that week). It’s imperative that you submit whatever you have at this point, so as to give others ample time to review your work.

Stage 2: Pre-class editing/reading: Each student is a peer evaluator for the three other members of his/her group. Peer evaluators who are not sharing drafts for a given class must read and write feedback for both of the drafts that are circulated in Stage 1. Peer evaluators who are sharing drafts for a given class must read and write feedback for the draft they did not write. See below for details for what this feedback entails.

Stage 3: Discussion of papers: We will begin each class sharing research experiences and discussing some fruitful strategies for progressing with research projects. Students sharing drafts during the week are expected to recount at least one obstacle, interesting experience, or interesting idea that he/she encountered in writing his/her draft that he/she thinks will be of general interest to other students.

We will then devote the rest of the time to discussing the 2 drafts.

  • Evaluation of Peers’ Final Drafts

As mentioned above, you will be peer evaluators for every paper written by every other member of your group. Each peer evaluator will come to class with a one-page synopsis of his/her comments, in which the evaluator does the following:

  • Summarizes the author’s paper in 4-5 sentences. (Compare with an abstract for an article.)
  • Discusses the strengths of the paper. Cite page numbers.
  • Discusses places where the author could improve the paper. Cite page numbers.

Commentators should bring two copies of their comments; one to be submitted to the author and one to me. Note that if you are presenting your paper, you will be receiving editorial comments from four people (three peers plus me) on your paper. (What a treat!)


  • Final Paper

During finals week, a 10-page, revised final draft of your paper is due. Like the midterm paper, your grade on this paper will be a weighted average of:

  • The overall quality of your paper; and
  • The degree to which you incorporated my and your peers’ comments on your initial draft into your final draft.

I have not yet determined the weight, though (1) will count for more than (2).


  • Participation

This is a general evaluation of the amount of effort and astuteness you have demonstrated to me in the course. Considerations that are relevant include promptness, attendance, quantity and quality of both contributions and questions in class sessions, responsiveness to other people’s comments in class, discussions outside of class, and appropriate class behavior. This grade reflects your performance in all of those areas of the course other than the graded, written assignments.

If you simply attend all of the required courses, you will receive a 75 (C) on your participation grade. Here are some ways of improving that grade:

  • Asking questions about the material. These questions can be requests for clarification or challenges to the author’s claims.
  • Answering your peers’ questions. Some of you will find this material easier than others. For those of you who find this easy, don’t be passive, don’t get bored, etc. Rather, share your knowledge, especially when you have an answer to someone else’s questions.
  • Don’t be shy during discussion sections and office hours. Some of you feel more comfortable in group setting than others. For those who would rather not speak in front of your peers, feel free to swing by office hours or to use email to be more open with your thoughts and concerns.


  • Other Considerations

  • General expectations for writing:

  1. Formatting: All writing assignments should be typed, double-spaced, standard margins, and in Times New Roman font. You will automatically lose a third of a grade on any assignment that does not follow these guidelines. For citations, use Chicago Author-Date, which can be found here[1]
  2. Form: Spelling, grammar, and overall clarity are determinants of your grade. If I can’t understand what you’re saying, then I can’t assess the content of your claims. Writing clearly demonstrates greater understanding of the text. You will also notice that writing assignments are generally rather brief in page requirements. This means you must be very efficient in your writing if you want to make an interesting point. Avoid being flowery—cut to the chase.
  3. Timeliness: All assignments should be submitted during the class on which they are due. Any assignment submitted late (i.e. after class) receives an automatic 6 percentage-point penalty. It will be penalized 3 percentage points for every subsequent day it is late. Hence, anyone submitting an assignment after class but on the same day in which it is due can earn no more than 94% of the total points; on the next day, 91%; on the next, 88%; etc. There are exceptions to this rule. See my policy on Dean’s Excuses below.
  4. Objections to grades: If you object to a grade you receive, send me an email with passages in your paper where you think I was being unfair. Provide reasons why my remarks for this passage were not fair. The email should also include times when you can meet over a one-week period. I will not discuss grades without reading an email first. This process should not be adversarial; rather, it is an extended application of your critical thinking skills. These policies are intended to facilitate clarity and communication, as well as to guarantee that I respond as thoughtfully as I can to your queries and concerns.
  5. Content: All writing assignments must demonstrate sufficient understanding of the texts, including using only those parts of the text relevant to establishing your thesis. As writing good philosophical papers isn’t the easiest thing to do, you’re always welcome to discuss your writing with me during office hours. Also visit my website for additional guides:

We will also read Zachary Seech’s Writing Philosophy Papers. This is an excellent guide for learning how to write good philosophy papers, and will take you an evening to read.


  • General expectations of student behavior

Participation also includes behaving like an adult. This includes exhibiting the virtues of civility, accountability, responsibility—particularly as these virtues apply to your education. For most of you, this is second nature. However, for the few of you who have not yet shed your adolescent tendencies, please note that failure to behave like an adult will be reflected in your participation grade. This includes taking the required initiative and responsibility of your workload in the event that you need a Dean’s Excuse (see below).


  • Email etiquette/decorum

Different professors have different expectations about how they are addressed, and especially how they are addressed in email correspondences. If you are not clear what a professor’s expectations are, use the template described here:

I consider my norms to be “semiformal,” i.e. I expect some form of salutation with some acknowledgment that I’m a professor, but within those constraints, you can be fairly colloquial. For instance, the following are all perfectly good ways to start an email: “Dear Professor Khalifa,” “Hey Prof,” “Hi Dr. K,” “Howdy Most Esteemed Educator,” etc. What’s not acceptable is an email either lacking a salutation or failing to acknowledge the fact that I’m a professor. This reads as if I’m a waiter taking your order, which is not a good professor-student dynamic. Examples of bad email introductions include diving into your email without addressing me at all, “Hi,” “Hey,” “Hello,” “Hello Kareem,” “Khalifa,” “Hey Khalifa,” etc. Just so you know, I don’t reply to emails if they don’t follow these very basic rules of decorum. Similar rules apply in face-to-face interactions.

Also, a general rule: most professors (including myself) don’t like to answer emails about logistical issues (how something will be graded, how to access a file, when something is due, etc.) in which the student could have read the syllabus, searched the internet, or asked a classmate in roughly the same amount of time it would take them to write and wait for a reply to an email. This is not a good use of your time (since you often could get the answer to your question more quickly with a little more effort) and it’s definitely not a good use of my time. Here’s my rule: if you send me one of these emails, I will send you a YouTube video of an 80’s pop song. You have two choices at this point: (1) you can go search for the lyrics to this song, and email them back to me. After that, I will answer your original query. (2) Alternatively, you can spend the same amount of time searching for the answer to your original query.

All in all, I prefer face-to-face interactions, where we’re talking about the content of the course. So, wherever possible, you should try to meet under these conditions.


  • Dean’s Excuses

There are exceptions to certain deadlines (e.g., illness, family emergency); however they require a Dean’s Excuse. The Dean’s Excuse serves the following functions in my course:

  • As official documentation to me that your reasons for handing in a tardy assignment are legitimate;
  • A mandate for you to initiate a conversation with me about how you will make up any assignments that you’ve missed.
  • A mandate for you to initiate this conversation as soon as possible.
    • In general, I prefer that you speak with me prior to my receiving a Dean’s excuse.
    • “As soon as possible” should be read “within a week in which I receive the Dean’s Excuse,” circumstances permitting. If you can attend class, then your circumstances permit you to speak with me about any work you need to make up.

A Dean’s Excuse does NOT serve the following functions in my course:

  • A permission slip for you to hand in your assignment at your earliest convenience.
  • A mandate for me to seek you out in order to initiate a conversation with you about how you will make up any assignments that you’ve missed.
  • Failure to respect these guidelines will result in a reduction of your participation grade AND the relevant assignments.


  • Travel

I realize that, in many cases, you can save a lot of money by leaving a few days earlier. In these cases, if you give me at least two weeks notice, I will try my best to accommodate you; though the earlier you notify me of this, the better. Otherwise, it’s your problem, not mine.


  • ADA Statement

Middlebury College seeks to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with documented disabilities. If you need an accommodation because of a documented disability, please contact Jodi Litchfield in the Office of Student Accessibility Services. Please do so at the beginning of the semester.


  • Honor code

You are expected to abide by all the rules of Middlebury College’s honor code. Failure to do so will lead to reporting you to the proper university authorities.

[1] Ryan Clement will run a tutorial on Zotero, which is a reference management program. It is free, relatively easy to use, and decreases your chances of violating the Honor Code.